Innovation Math Challenge Interviews

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Interview with Connie Demillo, a design teacher whose video Geometry Terminology Animated, won the Innovation Math Challenge.

Tell us about yourself — what are some of your hobbies?  

I am a design teacher, and I teach high school juniors and seniors from 10 nearby districts at 916 Career and Tech in St. Paul, MN. I spend an hour and forty-five minutes with these students every day over the year. We work on design basics, digital imaging, Adobe Creative Suite, etc.

What sparked your interested in the challenge?

Seeing the challenge inspired me to finish a project — add sound to complete my geometry animations. My students enjoy making beats in garage band and that inspired me to add rhythm to my animations. In school, algebra didn’t have enough of a visual hook for me to retain what I learned. With a middle school kid, if you can grab their attention with animation and sound, you can use that visual hook to show them the math.

What is your relationship with math?

I’m a design teacher, not a math teacher but I integrate math in design; they share the much of the same terminology (abstract, point, line, plane). There are many different ways to sneak math in under the radar. We talk about concepts like aspect ratio that transfer back to their math class.

Tell us about your video — what is your favorite part?

The info about angles is presented with a fun beat. Students can learn a lot in a little amount of time. I want them to be able to play this animation in their head when they need to recall it. Visual learners need to see it in their head, and math isn’t always presented visually.

Why did you choose to use animation to teach geometry?

I started with geometry because Adobe Illustrator is visual geometry. Design and math really are a parallel universe. Math may seem foreign, but we’re doing the same thing, we’re just thinking about it in a different way.

I also learned the power of animation and sound on getting somebody’s attention firsthand. My youngest daughter has autism, when she was 3 she didn’t have patience to listen to a book, but I created animations and added music and she would watch, and it helped her learn to talk. Animation and sound can be very powerful in capturing someone’s attention.

With modern technology, have the expectations for making a strong asset changed? If so, how?

Technology is constantly changing. I’m lucky that I’m a curious person and interested in a lot of things. I’m constantly trying to stay current. Students are engaged about emerging technology and they’re always curious about it. They light up when they see content they created on the iPad. I’m always looking for that thing they can learn that will make them light up. I know there’s math everywhere in music, and I think they can become confident knowing the math they’re going to need in their lifetime and to not be afraid of it.

What is one thing you learned from the IMC experience?

Have faith in what I do — I wasn’t sure how to package the animations I had started, but recognized an opportunity and seized it, and am grateful that these will now be shared.

Now that I won the challenge I plan to keep on going with this. I’d like to expand into visual algebra using animation and sound.

What advice do you have for future challenge entrants?

People should trust in their own ideas, be as creative as they can and share their passion. Get the kids interested. Education is a ticket out of poverty, and self-expression through creativity is a great way to engage students in learning.

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